Saturday, July 26, 2008

Filoli Friday

Filoli's west side. The back of the mansion faces the valley and the gardens.

Two years ago this week, Diane and I left for a month in Ireland, where we made the Birr Castle Demesne our home base. Feeling a bit homesick for the sense of gentility afforded by a huge mansion and surrounding gardens, we took a little trip yesterday to the nearest one of those to us that's open to the public: Filoli, near Woodside, California.

For those not inclined to track down all the details in Filoli's website, here's the short version: The mansion and its grounds are about 30 miles south of San Francisco, in a lovely valley that includes the Crystal Springs reservoir and its surrounding preserved wildlands. Built in 1917 by the Bourn family of San Francisco (who gathered their wealth the old-fashioned California way: they mined it), the estate's name is a severe distillation of William Bowers Bourn II's affected credo: "Fight for a just cause; love your fellow man; live a good life." That origin also explains its seemingly-odd pronunciation among his former estate's current staff: "fye-LUH-lih." Just about everyone else pronounces it "fih-LOW-lee," thus sounding stylishly Italian.

The mansion itself is an odd hodgepodge of various elegant architectural styles, and is certainly impressive if only for its size. Its grand two stories comprise 43 rooms and its demesne's 650 acres include 16 acres of formal gardens. Now operated by the non-profit Filoli Center for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the house, gardens, and visitors' center are open to the public six days a week for a modest entry fee. Out of sight of highways, hidden away from any major metropolitan center, it is one of the San Francisco Bay Area's lesser-known delights.

Here's the now-customary SherWords Google Earth geographical context provision:

(Click the image to see an acceptable version. For Google Earth users: the marker for Filoli is in the entry courtyard of the mansion, 37°28'13.62"N , 122°18'38.33"W -- cut 'n' paste into Google Earth, and you're there! Great, highly-detailed aerial photographic coverage of the whole demesne is available there, too.)

Diane and I had visited Filoli once before, in 1997, so we knew to duck through this door to get to the gardens quickly. It reminded us of a more modest door to a grand place that we used a lot two years ago.

The stable's clock tower is something of an icon for Filoli. Here we see it from the west across a lily pond; behind us is a swimming pool. The stable is now a gift shop.

The formal gardens are rich with more than fifty varieties of well-kept roses. Above is a "McCartney," and below...

... is an "October" (complete with an October surprise, appropriate for this presidential election year.)

Diane, over the hedge. It's a prickly hedge, too: holly.

Dozens of cylindrically-trimmed, grand Irish Yews oversee the formal gardens and the mansion's lawns. This canyon of them stretches downhill and northward from an alcove behind us that is a popular wedding site.

Walls and gates pervade the place, evoking everyone's inner "Secret Garden" sense of wonder. Here, hydrangeas beckon to a door to a softly wild, tropical part of the gardens.

The main (east) entrance to the mansion, festooned with the second-best wysteria we know. The best, of course, is one in the Birr Castle magic earldom, but you're probably rolling your eyeballs at those references by now, so I won't include a link.

Foyer.

Library. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you'll get a better view of that grand old celestial globe, which captivated me until a docent told me to take my grubby, proletarian hands off it. Well, not in those words, precisely, but you could just hear them, anyway.

The most popular room in the mansion yesterday was this one: the kitchen. Actually, the kitchen is a three-room complex, consisting of this huge one with the stove(s), a smaller food-preparation room, and the "Butler's Pantry." That last included a huge switchboard on one wall for communication with various rooms in the manse -- and a large, walk-in vault (complete with bank-sized vault-safe door) for the family silverware.

(Aside: there were very few people visiting Filoli yesterday, and, as Diane had predicted, many of them were speaking German and French: people spending their hard-earned euros on our cutrate goodies.)

These twelve slides and two dozen others (including other roses -- and a great croquet lawn for Adam's Uncle Bob, if he ever sees this) can be seen at higher resolution by clicking here.

By the way, if the mansion and its grounds look familiar to you, and if you watched much TV in the 1980's, this is the probable reason for its familiarity:


... the mansion in the credits is Filoli, and a lot of Dynasty, despite its putative Colorado locale, was filmed there.

If you're ever in the San Francisco Bay Area and have half a day to spend in a quiet, beautiful location, you could do worse than Filoli. But you'd better be quick about it. The mansion is a big pile of bricks, erected directly over the San Andreas Fault just ten years after that part of the fault broke in 1906. The fault hasn't budged since, the two sides of the crack under the mansion locked, building up titanic stress. I wouldn't want to be there when it lets go. My geologist friends tell me that a typical time between fault snaps in the Crystal Springs valley is a century, give or take a few decades, so it's due.

4 comments:

Dann said...

Or you could just type "filoli" into Google Earth and you'll get close enough to locate it.

Very cool post, Sherwood.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Very cool. I love the doorknocker on the garden gate!

ronnie said...

Beautiful. Those huge column-like trees are striking!

Sherwood Harrington said...

Ruth, the ents hereabouts will be polite if given the opportunity to be polite. If there's a doorknocker on a gate from the forest, they'll use it. If not, they'll just mash the whole wall down, and you know what it's like trying to find a reliable contractor for repair work these days.

That's pretty much common knowledge in Northern California. (We also provide GPS devices for our Sasquatch. -es. -i. Whatever.)